Thursday, March 3, 2022

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Picard' - Picard's New Call to Action Sends Him to Deal with Some Familiar Faces in 'The Star Gazer'

Paramount+'s Star Trek: Picard - Episode 2.01 "The Star Gazer"

Starfleet must once again call on legendary Jean-Luc Picard after members of his former crew - Cristóbal Rios, Seven of Nine, Raffi Musiker and Dr. Agnes Jurati - discover an anomaly in space that threatens the galaxy.

"The Star Gazer" was written by Akiva Goldsman & Terry Matalas and directed by Doug Aarniokoski

Some of the chief complaints of the first season were how slow it was to get to its stories and how nonsensical it was when it actually arrived. As such, it's easy to see the course correction right away. It touches base with the core characters to update what their lives are now like. Picard is done with the one final mission that took him out of retirement. He was relaxed on his chateau on Earth. He was connecting with his family lineage away from his destiny in the stars. He was pulled back into the drama. That continues to be the case this season. The same impulse is driving the storytelling. That's not all that reassuring given how it turned out last time. Picard is tasked with a mission that only he can complete. It's a mystery calling out to him by name. It can't be denied. It simply asserts that the storytelling can only offer him this one way. Him yearning for answers within his true final frontier is simply a novelty that delays his journey to action. He has to be at the helm of a ship in deep space. He can still ask existential questions out there. It's just awkward as the show positions his time on Earth as where he does his deep thinking only to never arrive at any real answers. That's true in abundance here. He's stuck to one path for so long that he has believed everything he told himself to go out on that adventure. It presents him as an old man still dealing with the traumas of youth. Those events shaped him. He looks back on them. They are still traumatizing. The loss of a mother shaped who he was. He has passed on that leadership to so many. He loves seeing familiar faces in this line of work. But again, that's what he is counted on to do. He is the one who must make the hard calls. The supporting characters are the ones fighting these battles. They have signed up for the mission. Picard offers the importance that everything else must ultimately pivot around. In his quest for self-reflection and love, he ends up back on the USS Stargazer confronting the Borg Queen. It's a familiar position. One where Seven of Nine operates in extremes because she knows the threat and terror offered by the Borg. They aren't a relic of the path. They will do anything to amass control. It may even take the ultimate sacrifice to stop that. It's all driven forward by a strange anomaly happening in space. That too is a familiar position. One that offers no easy explanation right away. It's simply meant to be a mystery. That's how this new generation of Star Trek shows choose to operate. This premiere at least has the benefit of catching up to the dire threat it teases in the beginning.

Of course, something does ring true from the central question placed on Picard. Why has he chosen to forsake love? He is the end of the Picard lineage. He is all that's left. He has joy and purpose. However, he is all alone. People believe that's how he functions. He is an adventurer willing to risk his life but not capable of settling down and causing his loved ones to worry. That was true when he was traveling across the universe on various missions. He has been on Earth for years. His nature has gone unchanged. The show forces him to connect with Laris in a more intimate way. He backs off from that. It's still enough to change their dynamic. She can't embrace that awkwardness. He seeks comfort and guidance from Guinan. That too offers him nostalgia. He's catching up with an old friend who knows him so well. They've chosen where they want to be and how they want to behave. Something deeper holds Picard back from embracing something more. It's presented as a mystery that needs to be solved. Romance doesn't naturally have to fill a role in a person's life. Here, it becomes the central question. It's presented alongside updates on the other romances. Raffi remains devoted to Seven. However, she is too committed to the cause of saving lives to offer much of anything in a relationship. Meanwhile, Jurati shuts down any possibility because her life is a mess after she was only lightly punished for killing her boss who she happened to be seeing romantically. Chris and Raffi command their own ships now. They represent parts of the Federation fleet. They offer support to the mission. Picard is brought in to lead diplomacy. It quickly descends into chaos. And then, it's all revealed to be a massive manipulation brought on by Q. The former foe of Picard's has returned with a vengeance. He has altered Picard's life so that he can recognize it and know how out of place it has become. It all makes no sense. He is confused. Again, the forces at work refuse to allow him peace. That's the tradeoff for centering a show around the famed character once more. The narrative knows how to be grand in its scale of conflict. The more personal moments are where it continues to be lacking. It loves callbacks to the history of this franchise. Time is what Picard focuses on nowadays. It's a conversation built around second chances. Picard may be offered that given how the Borg Queen confrontation plays out. It all happens so quickly that it seems unlikely that things could have gone any differently. That possibility remains albeit in slightly confusing terms.